Movie Magic Just Magnetic

The Great Barrier Reef Film Festival will be held at locations across Magnetic Island and the mainland on 7 – 10 September. IMAGE: Supplied

Bowen landed Baz Luhrmann’s Australia.

Cairns nabbed the latest in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

And out West, Winton is well on its way to becoming the film-making capital of the outback.

Now, Townsville film-makers and enthusiasts are taking it on themselves to bring a little more movie magic to our own region with the second annual Great Barrier Reef Film Festival this September.

It’s no secret that Hollywood is big business. While it’s certainly only a small percentage of all films made that can boast worldwide cinematic releases and billions in box office takings; you need only sit through the credits of even the lowest budget feature film to appreciate how many jobs – or at the very least, opportunities for skills development – a single movie can generate. Add catering, accommodation, equipment and location hire, and the spin-off tourism dollar to the equation and you can begin to see how significantly one film could contribute to the city’s economy.

While Townsville City Council’s strategy has been to appeal to the ‘big guys’ with their Screen Locations Guide developed last year, the Great Barrier Reef Film Festival (GBRFF) aims to nurture a local film industry from the ground up. This year, the second annual GBRFF will enhance and showcase the skills of local film-makers, while also catering to those who would prefer to kick back and enjoy the finished product in a beautiful tropical setting.

Great Barrier Reef Film Festival Director Sara Shaw said the time is ripe for an annual film fest to put Townsville on the movie-making map.

“I think Townsville’s coming of age creatively. Although Dance and Visual Arts and Theatre get fairly good PR, I think the film industry in our region is in need of a boost,” said Sara.

“Our locations are stunning and our weather is fantastic – we have everything from the ocean to the outback and with the Daintree and Bowen all within reach… The Townsville region has so much to offer in terms of location and talent, but people just don’t know about it.”

This year’s GBRFF will feature three full days of activities for film professionals, amateurs and enthusiasts.

“The program covers getting kids excited and enthused about film, giving film students a chance to screen or premiere their work and getting conversations happening between the different universities about what’s available,” Sara said.

“Actor and Producer Andy McPhee (Saving Mr Banks, Wolf Creek, Animal Kingdom) is coming to do a weekend intensive for actors, writers and directors. It’s called the “Game Changer Intensive” and it starts with yoga and meditation and moves into approaching artistic passions and identifying what’s blocking you from writing that screenplay or booking that audition, or making that short film.

“Friday night will be Shorts by the Sea at the old barge ramp. We’ll deck it out with the big screen and a bar and the atmosphere will be pretty special with the waves lapping in the background and the rock wallabies coming down to see all the action. I expect that will be one of the fastest growing events for the Festival over the coming years.

“Saturday will include talks and feature films throughout the day and then an interactive movie in the evening. We did Blue Paradise last year which was perfect for the island setting and we’re just choosing one for this year.”

The GBRFF’s screenings will include the red carpet World Premiere of Zelos, plus seven other feature films from Australia, New Zealand and the US; The Shorts at Sea – Official Selection; Village Shorts – Director’s Choice; film forums; and feature documentaries including Townsville in Time. The Festival will also shine a light on local talent, giving an opportunity for new voices to rise to the surface.

“Film covers a very broad area of creative expertise and we need to give people the credit they deserve to build the industry, the knowledge and the opportunities for liaison.

“There are some really talented people in Townsville who don’t get the kudos they deserve. I don’t want to say I’m surprised by the talent we have locally, because I certainly assumed there were people here who know what they’re doing; I just don’t think they’re getting the notoriety they deserve.”

One such spring of untapped talent is local concept artist and Telly Award-winning film-maker Lyndon Berresford. Lyndon will speak at the GBRFF about the power of collaboration, drawing on his own experience of producing films with a team based in Los Angeles.

“What I’m quite passionate about in Townsville is saying “you can work on these projects”. People say: “Townsville doesn’t have anybody here that can do this thing.” But you don’t need to bring Hollywood to Townsville, you don’t need to go to Hollywood to sort it out and that’s the lesson,” said Lyndon.

“When it comes to film, music and media, some of the best projects are collaborative projects.

“If Townsville wants to get into [the film industry] – it’s got to be led by creatives, not by Council. There’s a lot of talent that comes out of this place, and a lot gets produced here, but it still gets shipped down south too.

Lyndon said it’s an exciting time for independent film-makers, with the demand for ready-made content higher than ever before.

“Everyone in Townsville is trying to get into Hollywood and everyone in Hollywood is trying to get out. It’s locked down to big blockbusters and that’s it, but people over there are now realising that through media and YouTube they can get their films out globally,” said Lyndon.

“There’s a real shift to Netflix-type on demand TV, so [television] companies [in the US] are crying out for content. The traditional studio set ups can’t keep up, so studios are looking to independent film makers. They used to make a TV series that ran for say 10 episodes and it would run for half a year – and Australia is still doing this – but people aren’t consuming TV like that anymore. You watch the new series of Orange is the New Black in a day and then you want the next series and it’s really shifting.

“For the last 20 years the major films have been locked up by 10 or 12 directors that they trusted with them. And now there’s not enough content [to feed the likes of Netflix and iTunes}. So there’ll be more opportunity for the little guys.”

Sara said this year’s GBRFF would help put the North’s film-makers in a better position to take advantage of these new opportunities.

“We want to get people excited about film and telling stories around the reef, the coastal towns and out west,” said Sara.

“It’s all about building the foundation skills, so that this year’s participants will be able to participate in a Short Film Competition in 2018.”

The Great Barrier Reef Film Festival will be held at locations across Magnetic Island and the mainland on 7 – 10 September. For all the details, visit

Our picks for the Great Barrier Reef Film Festival

7 September: World Premiere of Zelos & Gala Opening Night

Who doesn’t love an opportunity to frock up, walk the red carpet and catch a brand new film? Zelos is touted as a coming-of-age film for thirty-somethings and is one of the just 14% of Australian feature films produced by women since 1970.

8 September: Shorts at the Sea

Take a short stroll from Arcadia down to the old barge ramp, and discover what we’re sure will become one of the most unique screening locations on the Australian Short Film Festival circuit. The resident rock wallabies are sure to join film-lovers for this collection of short flicks by the sea.

9 September: Make a Movie on Your Mobile

Join Magnetic island’s Matt Whitton as he teaches you how to make a mini movie straight from your mobile phone. This is a perfect workshop for kids looking to build their film-making skills

9 September: Interactive Movie

Ever wished for smell-o-vision? What about for feeling the salt-water on your face as your favourite swash-buckler sails the seven seas? The GBRFF’s interactive movie experience will bring the sights, sounds, smells and sensations of the movie to life, right as you watch it!

10 September: Sean Murphy’s Kids’ Party Confidential (movie edition)

Comedian Sean Murphy was lauded at the Sydney Film Festival as ”a highlight of the Sydney Fringe”. Seven years in spandex has taught Sean how to throw the best fiesta ever, and now he’ll pass on everything he knows in this high-energy, highly-interactive show.

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